BOOKS: ‘Girl with the red hair’ struck fear in Nazi thugs

Have you heard about Hannie Schaft? Jannetje Johanna Schaft, was a member of the Dutch Resistance movement during WWII. She was known within the movement as Hannie Schaft but to the Nazi occupation forces, who placed her on their most wanted list, she was regarded as the mysterious “girl with the red hair.”

Schaft was attending law school in Amsterdam when the Nazis mandated that all students would be required to sign loyalty oaths. Eighty percent of them, including Schaft, refused to sign. That was the end of school for them. Schaft returned to her hometown, Haarlem, to live with her parents.

When she arrived back home she took along a surprise, she brought her best friends, Sonja and Philine. Her friends were Jewish and Schaft was hoping to provide a secret sanctuary for them in her parents’ home while the Nazis were industriously rounding up Jews who were then being sent to concentration camps.

In “To Die Beautiful,” Buzzy Jackson has taken the historical facts that are known about the brief, heroic life of Hannie Schaft and transformed them into a captivating novel about a woman who was utterly fearless and totally determined to exact revenge upon certain notorious Nazis and their Dutch collaborators.

Almost every character in the book is based upon people who really existed. Only two central characters are completely fictional. Even those two fictional people were still based upon composite characteristics of people much like them.

Initially Hannie’s parents were apprehensive about concealing her Jewish friends. Sonja and Philine were forced to stay in one room together; they were soon going stir crazy with boredom. Hannie was spending most of her time at a safe house where Resistance members were hatching schemes to subvert and liquidate their oppressors.

A handsome young comrade named Jan began training Hannie. He taught her how to use a gun. Then he showed her how to kill Nazis. They began working as a team. Hannie became a lethal force within the Resistance. She also started falling in love with Jan.

She earned her reputation. Witnesses recalled one important clue about this secretive killer who could vanish so quickly into the night astride her wooden-wheeled bicycle, that she had red hair. Hannie was forced to dye her hair black and started wearing disguises.

They finally caught her when the war was almost over. They tortured her. She told them nothing. She spit in their faces. They killed her. Initially she became a national hero. She was also being lionized in places like East Germany. Call it a complication. Once the Iron Curtain fell it became acceptable again to honor her.

They built a monument in her hometown. In “To Die Beautiful” Buzzy Jackson has erected a literary edifice to this woman who passionately fired her retribution into the dark hearts of those evil oppressors. Let us never forget Hannie.

Correction: In last week’s column I mentioned Don Winslow’s final novel. It will be out next year and the title has been changed. The new title will be “City in Ruins.”

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at